Grim Fandango

Grim Fandango

Last week saw the release of a remastered version of the 1990s LucasArts adventure game Grim Fandango on the Nintendo Switch.

I wrote an article for Shortlist magazine last year, explaining why it was my favourite game of all time. As that article isn’t online, I figured I’d celebrate the Switch release by posting it here.

 

Grim Fandango article

Rubacava at night was a hell of a town. I still dream of it sometimes, even though it is nearly twenty years since I was there. Its towering art-deco and modernist buildings looked designed for moonlight. Cruise liners built like Aztec temples towered over the docks. The nightclubs and beatnik poetry clubs were populated entirely by calacas, the blank-faced skeletons from the Mexican Day of the Dead festival. Rubacava was a town known for its nightlife, which was ironic, seeing as everyone there was dead.

Rubacava was a location in the 1998 LucasArts adventure game Grim Fandango. I was working on a late-night TV videogames review programme called Cybernet when it was released. The job meant that I had to play a lot of games. In most of those games, you shot at stuff until you got bored. Other games allowed you to drive things or pretend to play sports, but the majority involved shooting things. It was hard, at times, to defend gaming as an imaginative or creative pastime.

But then came Grim Fandango. The game was set in the Mexican Land of the Dead, but it was styled like 1940s Hollywood. It placed you deep inside a noir saga of post-death corruption, in equal parts Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon and Aztec religion. As you can probably tell from the description, this was not a game designed by a committee or fleshed out by a marketing department. This was a singular vision, which was not something 90s gaming was noted for. It seemed like the future of storytelling. It was a fully realised creative achievement. It was art.

Twenty years later, and Rubacava is still more vivid for me than the flat I lived in at the time. The town was so atmospheric, so beautiful and so unique that all those hours wandering its moonlit streets, puzzled and bewildered, seemed to somehow justify all the time lost to videogaming generally. It felt like gaming’s Sgt Pepper moment, the point when the bar had been raised and the medium would never be the same again.

But it was an end, not a beginning. It was the end of an era for mass-market adventure games. It was the end of companies like LucasArts creating original properties instead of relying on existing brands. The end of the idea that games could better novels and films in storytelling and originality. It is hard now to point to a successful, mainstream game that could be said to be its spiritual successor. The public, it turned out, did want to shoot things after all.

The game’s aesthetic of death and nostalgia should have been a clue: Grim Fandango was always fated to be an end, not a beginning. I found myself drifting away from gaming, unable to sustain interest in the endless identikit sci-fi, warzone or medieval fantasy scenarios they offered. But endings are also a celebration of that which will be missed. As the game itself reminds us, we’ll always have Rubacava.

 

Watling Street paperback, audiobook and podcast online

Watling Street paperback, audiobook and podcast online

Today is publication day for the Watling Street paperback, and it is a lovely thing – the ideal format for forcing copies on to people who don’t know they need it, but really do. Find it in all good bookshops, some bad ones, and online.

 

 

It is also out today as an audiobook, read by me, for anyone who wants to judge my pronunciation of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Ideal for all your commutes and long journeys, especially those involving the A5 and A2.

You can find the audiobook here.

To tie in with these releases, I have put all four episodes of the Watling Street podcast on Youtube for anyone who missed it last year or who doesn’t do podcasts. Episode 1 starts off in Kent, and features CJ Stone and Andy Miller.

Episode 2 covers London, with the help of Iain Sinclair, Lord Victor Adebowale and, at Cross Bones, John Constable, Michelle Watson and Miranda Kane.

Episode 3 hits the Midlands with help from the greatest living English writer, Alan Moore.

And Episode 4 takes us through North Wales with Cerys Matthews, Eric Maddern and Salena Godden. Plus, a remix from Greg Wilson and Peza to end things on a high.

All episodes are produced by my co-host, Dr David Bramwell, and feature music by Oddfellow’s Casino.

The KLF audiobook is now available

The KLF audiobook is now available

It took me long enough I know, but there’s now an audiobook version of The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds available. Like the Stranger Than… audiobook, it’s unabridged and read by me.

 

I love audiobooks, it’s an intimate and powerful way for me to mash up your head during your commute. Oh, and you can expect an audiobook version of Watling Street this summer. Enjoy!

Watling Street – Book and podcast launch

originally posted July 13, 2017

I am a proud parent limping out of a delivery room with uncountable stitches and a head full of endorphins – my new book has entered the world!

Her name is Watling Street and you’ll find her at your local bookshop – or online here.

She tells of a journey across England and Wales. She will not make you proud to be British but she just might make you delighted to be British.

Watling Street book cover by John Higgs

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Stranger Than We Can Imagine algorithmically compressed into 400 words

originally posted September 16, 2015

My new book Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century is finally loose in the UK – being sold in shops, downloaded as ebooks onto Kindles and as audiobooks onto phones. It will be published in Canada on October 6th and America on November 10th, with Spanish, German, Dutch, Greek, Turkish and Romanian translations on their way. There are, I’d like to think, versions for everyone.

Everyone, that is, except those who don’t want to read an entire book. What about those people?

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Cosmic Trigger Festival Talk

originally posted November 25, 2014

It’s too early to say exactly what detonated at the Cosmic Trigger play and festival in Liverpool this weekend, save to say that this particular firework was not a dud and much will be written about it.

At one point a man called Duncan Harvey handed me a memory stick containing a long lost photo shoot he did with Robert Anton Wilson at the Old Chelsea Town Hall, London, in 1986. I’ve placed my favourites throughout this post. Good, rights-clearable photos of Bob are in short supply, so if anyone has a use for these photos get in touch and I’ll connect you with Duncan. This is my absolute favourite:


I was due to give a talk and host a panel with Robin Ince, Adam Gorightly, Robert Temple and Daisy Campbell. This didn’t happen alas – whoever was in charge of the speaker’s room lost interest in that role and wandered off and the resulting confusion and free-for-all (Hail Eris!) claimed the time alloted for my talk. So rather than see that talk go to waste I’ve transcribed here roughly what I would I would have said, bar the ums and errs and general blather.

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Steve Moore (1949 – 2014)

originally posted May 1, 2014
Steve Moore (centre) at the Brinklow Crescent burial mound. Photo by Mark Pilkington

When someone dies there is a temptation to write an obituary. If I’d written an obituary for the comic writer, Fortean Times grandee and occultist Steve Moore when he died last month it would have ended with the final few sentences from his dream diary, in which he describes the end of his last dream:

“I came to what seemed to be a small lake, and decided to float across the surface, but it seemed to be only about an inch deep anyway. I then decided to run, as I wanted to get home quick.”

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Youth’s early Killing Joke-era “acid flipout”

originally posted October 1, 2013

Writing The KLF was in part an attempt to scratch an itch created by an aborted attempt to write a book about Killing Joke. There’s a lot of cross-over between those two stories, and many of the threads I explored in The KLF would have worked equally well in a Killing Joke book – not least of which being the money burning (see below).

Here’s a transcript of an interview I did with Youth for that book, regarding his “acid flipout”.

Youth, 1980, before Killing Joke gig at the Music Machine, London. Photo by Klaus Hiltscher on Flicker
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The Superman/Doctor Who/KLF Popstar Car – An Unseen Transvestite Pirate Nun Photograph

originally posted November 25, 2012
Here you go…

Okay, this picture might need a bit of explaining.

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The Silence, Slenderman and Alan Moore’s Ideaspace

The Silence, Slenderman and Alan Moore’s Ideaspace

originally posted October 30, 2012

Here’s a spooky thing to think about this Hallowe’en.

This is The Silence. I’ll assume you know about the Silence from watching Doctor Who.

 

This is Slenderman. Slenderman (Or the Slender Man, if you prefer) is one of those internet memes you either know about or you don’t. If you don’t, an ideal place to start is this Darklore article by Cat Vincent, along with his follow-up article in the latest volume.
 

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